- Assignment: Write a Poem about an Animal, and: Cryptozoology
Assignment: Write a Poem about an Animal
No, I told John. You may not write a poem about your will. If not my will, he said, how about my soul?
I said no. He wrote about a male impala dominating his female herd. Oh, I knew I could never trust him. [End Page 89]
The antelope was not simply an antelope, its eyes, of course, were the same gray as John’s, had the same
number of violet flecks. And unlike most impalas this one wasn’t leaping through Africa; rather, it was living
on the outskirts of a park in John’s hometown. Twenty-five and still shooting bbs into songbirds and
digging through their bodies to get his bbs back, bragging about the women he’s conquered and the adventurous
ways he took them. Why should I let him use a pen as a scalpel to dissect his bully will or bully soul or
the black holes of his childhood? He wrote the poems I didn’t want to read. In his last, he gathered images
from L.A. streets, described the La Brea tar pits off of Wilshire Boulevard, the curve of the mastodon’s neck,
his already sunken hind legs and tail. John wasn’t sure how so many got trapped. He wondered what kind of urge
led them into this bubbling mess. In conclusion, he used himself to understand. Twice, rushing to buy condoms
and cigarettes, he ran across a parking lot and stepped into puddles of oil and water, ruining his tidy socks.
They were mostly young males, he wrote, I guessit happens. Which, in the end, reminded me of my own will—
hungry and impulsive, with an important date to keep, it too could overlook the dark and liquid road. [End Page 90]
People on the banks of the Tapajos River, deep in the Amazon, believe they have found the mapinguar—a red-haired, long-clawed, enormous sloth. Before villagers found it, it did not exist. Sadly, the mapinguar is considered imaginary. I had a lover who believed in Sasquatch and tracked him for two weeks through the mountains of western Canada. I had a sister who distrusted the legend of Bigfoot but was certain the abominable snowman was trudging through the Himalayas. Even though they had names and fit perfectly into their ecosystems and family trees, death struck them both like a careless bee. What I wouldn’t give to be pulling a net out of the Arabian Sea and find them alongside ten thousand fish—alive— looking up at me. Never again would I believe the dead. Really, only one of them is dead, I label the other “dead to me.” I fell in love certain he was my kind of animal. But he outgrew the habit of me and in the moonlight abandoned one house for another. I moved, leaving one lover and then another to dot my life. The trick isn’t love; it’s belief. Endangered Yeti, misunderstood bear-man, I wish I believed in you—living your fabled lives— eating the townspeople’s livestock, coupling with trees, setting boulders on top of boulders in patterns that baffle us. Someone had to put your footprints outside our windows. It can’t be you we see lumbering away. Meanwhile, the coelacanth fish is back to living after 64 million years. We have touched it [End Page 91] in waters near Madagascar and based on its ancient fossil and its actual living body, we are certain this time we are right.
Kristen Tracy’s poems have appeared in AGNI, Threepenny Review, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. She coedited A Chorus for Peace: A Global Anthology of Poetry by Women (U of Iowa P) and has published two youngadult novels, Lost It and Crimes of the Sarahs. reviews